Readers of my blogs may know that I write psychological thrillers involving the dead (victims of murder, victims of social neglect, sudden heart attacks, dramatic suicides). They are commercial but serious in tone - at least that was my intention when I wrote them. I'm now flattered to see my new publishers comparing me with the the likes of Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs.
All my novels are set in London, where I lived and worked for nearly twenty years and which continues to inspire me every time I go up there, which is often, because I always find something new to discover about life in the metropolis. London is the focus of my inspiration and Cornwall is my writing base. I would find it difficult to write stories about Cornwall because it has never presented me with any dramatic tensions - apart from hospital treatments.
That said, I had a street encounter here on the Celtic fringe as I was walking home from Truro city centre the other day. Heading towards me as I struggled with my carrier bags
were two people whom I can only describe as characters from the Jeremy Kyle Show (she sporting Ugg boots and leggings, scraped back pony tail, large hooped ear-rings and lighting a fag; he in cheap trainers and hoodie pulled up over his head). As I passed them, feeling benign as I always do after a sortie in the fresh air, the male character sort of hooted in my face and shouted something, the only discernible word being 'fucking'. I carried on walking but after a few steps turned round to find him gazing back at me. 'Chav', I said, quietly but clearly and walked on, wondering if he'd chase me and wrestle me to the ground. Then I wondered, as I always do with street encounters, what the story was behind the pair.
They weren't working, obviously, or going to work, but she could afford £6 for a packet of cigarettes (I am so glad I quit smoking eighteen years ago because I couldn't afford £45 a week for twenty cigs a day). They were coming from the direction of Trelander, a large concrete council estate on the valley slopes, built in the sixties to house incoming workers in the power industry - or so I was told by an old Truro native. This housing provision could be compared with the early Victorian stuccoed terraces in Primrose Hill, one of which I used to inhabit in a tiny rented flatlet. These bijou London homes were built for railway workers on the new Euston mainline. The difference is that Primrose Hill has long since been gentrified and celebrity-fied, while Trelander has deteriorated into a no-go enclave for no-hopers.
But why do under-educated no-hopers whose only ambition in life is to appear on the Jeremy Kyle Show to kill the endless hours of boredom they must encounter have to be obnoxious? Big Issue sellers, of which there are several in Truro in this era of homelessness, are resourceful and polite and - if I'm not putting too romantic a spin on it - purposeful. People without purpose other than to 'drink and eat and screw' as Jarvis Cocker put it in his song 'Common People' (memorably spoofed on YouTube with Cameron and Co lookalikes), are just menaces. The French word, menacer, means to threaten and this obnoxious behaviour threatens us all. No amount of cuts and checks and Big Society rhetoric is going to fix it. Love-bombing with benefits and other hand-outs hasn't worked for social pariahs like this pair. I hate to find myself saying so, but a spell of national service - military or civil l(a German boyfriend I had did his civil/national service in a mortuary, inspiring some of my material for 'Remains of the Dead'... ) might be a base-line solution. My granddad, an indentured joiner who served his apprenticeship just after World War I, would have called the pair 'ignorant', which is exactly what they are, although, unlike my granddad, they were offered a free education until they were sixteen followed by a swift transition to an idle and purposeless life as as a menace. What is to be done? as the Bolsheviks would say.